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Questions from the dinner table

I never liked the question, “what did you learn today?” Something in my teenaged brain ruffled by the conversation starter most adults like to use. This type of query runs along the same line as, “how are you today?” I feel like the only good response would be to throw it back and ask what they want to hear? The gritty truth, or the fluffy answer we all have at the ready, “I’m fine, how are you?”

I couldn’t get away with being a smart ass when my Dad asked about what I had learned at school that day. Sitting at one end of our dinner table, set for the 5 of us, all eyes peered back at me waiting for an answer. What I didn’t know at the time was, my Dad probably thought school was interesting to me, as it was back when he attended. I did not share that sentiment with his experience. Instead, I found formal educational institutions to be lacking in imagination and creativity. They were churning us students through the process.

When I finally found a course I liked, the content was the furthest thing from interesting family dinner time conversation. It was not inappropriate, but just boring. Who wants to talk about or listen to the details about a new sewing technique? Or how about reliving the misery of ripping out all your work to start again, after trying to sew a sleeve to a side seam? At least I enjoyed working with my hands and coming away at the end of a project having made something.

What I really learned at school was how differently I viewed education and learning. Most of the subjects I thought were pointless. I still don’t understand why learning calculus is important to anyone other than math majors. The only thing I learned in those type of classes was how to ‘get through it’. I suppose that is an important life skill. I just think perseverance and dedication could be taught in a better way.

The best thing about educational institutions is a building and a schedule. The dedicated space and time to learn are critical. This is what I miss now from all the years I attended. The smell of the old hallways, the feeling of a new locker or backpack and the crisp new timetable. All of it is a promise of learning to come. In contrast, achieving any degree of learning in a typical work day, while also being a busy worker, (parent, spouse, friend, etc.) is no easy task.

The internet has changed the playing field for what is possible to learn. But the plethora of choice can be overwhelming. Not everything a person can learn is worth the effort. Instead of a program director deciding what will be offered, anyone can get online and curate their own adult education. Exciting times, to be sure.

It has become apparent to me that having so much choice is a big problem. I consider myself a person who is not easily distracted, but when I let my curiosity be my guide, I will wander off track pretty easily. It turns out, I do better with a little structure. Instead of looking to how the tech savvy young are hacking education, I am looking back to an older method.

Evidently, Benjamin Franklin dedicated 1 hour a day, 5 hours a week to learning. The five-hour rule, coined by Michael Simmons, founder of Empact, is a habit of deliberate learning. While this practice started long ago, some heavy hitters of today attribute part of their success to daily learning.

Franklin took it one step further. Waking up early to read and write was the first part of his routine. He also established personal goals and tracked his results. What might be considered a mastermind group, he created a club for “like-minded aspiring artisans and tradesmen who hoped to improve themselves while they improved their community.” Closely tied to the daily gratitude practice, Franklin asked himself reflective questions every morning and evening.

As the year draws to a close and I think about my goals for 2019, the idea of carving out some time to learn, reflect and experiment with new ideas seems really appealing. Realizing that this kind of habit goes way back, to a time when there were no podcasts, no internet, or digital books, it is the least I can do to make use of the treasure trove of resources I have access to.

When I dig into the particulars of my schedule, I immediately find over 3 hours per day spent commuting by public transit. In that space, I have no obligation to anyone and can use that time in a myriad of ways. I have experimented with what type of learning works best for me in each phase of travel and certain times of day. I enjoy writing in the morning and even up to lunch. In the afternoon I can still absorb what I read. In the evening, listening is my preference.

If I was not tied to this commute, I would be hard pressed to allocate upwards of 3 hours per day to learning. I know myself and I would find other things to occupy my time. Being ‘forced’ in a way, to stay on this schedule, where I am not required to drive myself or socialize, I am able to accomplish more learning than I ever thought would be possible.

Needless to say, this commuting time has turned from drudgery to kind of precious. Besides learning, I am able to have enough time to sort through my feelings before I arrive at home. I have been getting better at walking out of my office building and actually leaving my concerns and worries there as well. Because I have spent my time learning, I often have something new and interesting to talk about at dinner. It feels great to share interesting thoughts and ideas with my husband and children. The only trick is to make sure I use my learning to advance my goals. 

Thank you for reading my thoughts on creativity. Each day, I hope to get a little closer to understanding how to design a lifestyle I don’t need a vacation from. I believe that focusing on the importance of creativity in our daily lives is an important aspect of happiness and ultimately wellness.

There are a couple of interesting projects on the horizon in 2019. The travel book will be digitally published by the summer. A creativity retreat is on the docket for the Fall.

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See you on the internet! Or IRL, the next time we meet. Thank-you for the support and helping me get the word out to our fellow creatives.

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